Rodrigo y Gabriela: Reinventing the Steel
GW Have you both been playing acoustic guitar in this style since you were young?
GABRIELA QUINTERO No, not at all. We both started out playing rock music, and that was our initial exposure to learning the guitar. When we first got to know each other, we found that we were both really big fans of thrash metal. Rodrigo and I integrated that type of playing into our music, and then we started to play in a metal band. But the scene for underground metal bands in Mexico was very difficult.
So we were very frustrated, and we said, “Let’s stop the bullshit and really learn to play the guitar,” and we began to focus more on the music and to work hard to become better musicians. We would go to the beach with just our acoustic guitars, and we began to develop new music for ourselves to play based on the combination of two nylon-string guitars.
This was not the first time we began to listen to the kind of music typically played on these instruments, such as bossa nova, flamenco and classical guitar, but it was the first time we actually played these types of guitars. We had to use our ears to figure out how to get sounds from these instruments, as neither of us is classically trained—or academically trained, for that matter—at all.
GW Gabriela, a big part of the music you and Rodrigo make together is the array of percussive sounds you create with your strumming hand, filling out the sound so that it seems like much more than just two guitars. Are some of the strumming techniques you use derived from flamenco guitar?
GABRIELA It’s important to mention, especially for flamenco music lovers, that we do not play flamenco music. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the techniques flamenco players use, but instead I went in a completely different direction and started to develop flamenco-styled rhythms.
There is, however, one technique I use that actually does have a correlation to flamenco music, which is called a rasgueado: this is similar to a standard “raking” technique inthat pick-hand fingers are dragged across the strings in rapid succession. I drag the middle and the ring fingers together, along with the thumb, across the strings in a downward motion, and then the thumb is dragged across the strings in an upward motion, creating a triplet rhythm.
I like to alternate between creating rhythms of 16th notes and 16th-note triplets with the strumming hand, and in order to do this properly I have to keep the pick-hand wrist very loose and relaxed. Once you build up a certain amount of velocity, you can use the same technique to either strum across the strings or tap rhythms on the face of the guitar.
GW On the new album, the track “Atman” is dedicated to former Pantera/Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell. What led to writing this piece?
RODRIGO We are both just super fans of Dimebag and, regardless of what happened to him, we knew we were going to pay tribute to him at one time or another. His playing was very influential for us, and Dimebag was essential because he came up with so much stuff on the guitar that no one had done before. For this track, we asked Alex Skolnick from Testament to play the solo. Alex is one of our heroes, and he was very excited to play on the track because of his feelings for Dime. Alex had met Dimebag a few times, and he talked about what a sweet guy he was.
GABRIELA Since we were very young, we loved Alex’s solos on the Testament records. One of our favorite solos is the one Alex plays on the title track on the album Souls of Black. We told him we liked that specific solo and asked if he could add something like it to the track. He didn’t even remember it at all! We had to YouTube it [laughs], and he had to listen to it a few times. We also told him that we wanted some of the fucking crazy Dimebag things. I think he did an amazing solo.
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